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Locally-grown art in its natural environment

A map of the tour.1 / 5
Helen Hartley works on a clay sculpture in the Larsmont School on Sunday. LaReesa Sandretsky2 / 5
Kathy O'Rourke demonstrates rosemaling on a picnic basket on Sunday. LaReesa Sandretsky3 / 5
Sandi Pillsbury Gredzen's easel stands in Rose Kadera Vastila's front-yard on Sunday. She was completing the en plein air painting on her birthday. LaReesa Sandretsky4 / 5
Victoria Sabatino buys her beads on long strings, like the ones shown. She takes them off the strings and lays them in her bead board to design necklaces. LaReesa Sandretsky5 / 5

When Larsmont School was built in 1914, it served the Scandinavian immigrant community in the area, consisting of education in one room by one teacher.

Last weekend, a bit of Scandinavia was brought back to the school in the form of rosemaling, a traditional Norwegian folk art using paint and brush to create elaborate designs on wood, textiles and other surfaces.

"I just really liked the form, so I took a lesson," artist Kathy O'Rourke said.

That was 28 years ago, and she's still perfecting the nineteenth-century craft. Though she doesn't sell her work in public galleries, she had some on display and for sale in the schoolhouse last weekend. She also had her paints and brushes on hand to demonstrate rosemaling. She'll be at the schoolhouse again next weekend, along with three other artists.

All four are part of the Lake Superior 20/20, an art tour rooted in the area between Duluth and Two Harbors. It consists of 20 local artists along a 20-mile loop. There are eight hosts and countless art forms: paints, beads and glass, to name a few.

"We've had a lot of people stop by," Helen Hartley said.

Hartley works in watercolor, sculpture and photography and had pieces using all three on display. Her interest in all things creative goes back childhood: her first art project was decorating her mother's cookbook as a little girl. She sells her work in galleries and privately, much of which features the nine smiling faces of her grandchildren.

"My family is my favorite subject," she said.

Her hands were covered in the clay of her latest sculpture as she explained the process of carving, drying, hollowing and glazing her figures--giving visitors a peek into her life as an artist.

"Seeing (artists) do what they do, that's the cool thing about it," Victoria Sabatino said.

Sabatino is a relative newcomer to the art scene. Surrounded by a spread of hand-beaded necklaces, earrings and bracelets, she explained how she got into jewelry-making just five years ago.

"Somebody gave me an earring-making kit as a gift. Before that, I didn't have a creative bone in my body," she said.

Now, she sells her work at Northwoods Pioneer Gallery and Gifts, the oldest art co-op in Minnesota, which is located in Castle Danger.

The fourth woman at the school, Joyce Gow, a watercolor painter, had packed up for the day. Sabatino, Hartley and O'Rourke were only hours from doing the same, but they'll be there again next weekend, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. Friday-Sunday.

Just next door to Larsmont School, Brad Nelson will be giving silversmith demonstrations. A few miles south on Highway 61 is Patricia Canelake's studio. She will show off some of her oil paintings and tools of the trade. A left on Highway 61, a right on Homestead Road and another right on the Shilhon Road will take visitors to the next artist, Ron Benson, a glass sculptor.

A couple miles down the Homestead and a left on Hegberg Road leads to Sage Forge, home and workshop of Jim Sage. He's a glassblower and blacksmith. Two other artists, Bob Husby and Jay Conradi, will have temporary workshops set up at the location. Husby makes pottery and Conradi does woodturning.

Once back on the Homestead, the tour continues with a right on West Knife River Road and then a left on Culbertson Road. Bruce and Cynthia Lovold will have their Saddle Rock Pottery studio open, sharing the space with guest Royce Spry whose interest is in wood carving and Native American art.

Once back on the Culbertson, a right on Valley Road and a left on Laine Road will take tourists deep into the heart of Clover Valley. One more left onto the Nappa Road leads to the lime-green "Lake Superior 20/20" sign pointing down Rose Kadera Vastila's driveway. She will have her ceramics and sculptures on display in her garage. She began her art career at age four, she said--mud pies were her specialty.

Sandi Pillsbury Gredzens, an acrylic/oil painter, plans to be in Kadera Vastila's front yard with her easel if the weather cooperates. She has been an art educator for more than 30 years and a practicing artist for 40. Her husband, David Gredzens, will have his photography displayed inside and Elsie Cook, a painter, will be there to talk to visitors about her work. She's among the most well-known artists on the tour, according to Kadera Vastila.

Pillsbury Gredzens and Kadera Vastila, along with Cynthia Lovold were the catalysts behind the art tour.

"It really came together quite naturally," Kadera Vastila said.

When they began planning last spring, they put out a call for artists. It wasn't difficult to find the 20 artists they needed for their 20/20 tour.

They wanted to draw people to the rural areas between Duluth and Two Harbors--places overlooked by many, Kadera Vastila said. Tourists come for the lake and the shore, but don't realize the beauty--and talent--that lies further inland.

"We've had a lot of people say, "Wow, we didn't know how many people were out here,'" Pillsbury Gredzens said.

She said they had a mix of locals and tourists throughout the weekend.

The tour doesn't end at Kadera Vastila's place. After getting back to Valley Road, a left down Moen Road and another left on Tomberg Road lead to Shelley Getten's studio. Her block prints will be on display next to Val Bolen's mosaic pieces.

Back on Moen Road, the final stop awaits. David Gilsvik, a local oil painter, lives on Hermanson Road, where his studio will be open and his art on display for the enjoyment of visitors.

All of the artists will have work for sale.

"There's a wide range of media and prices available," Kadera Vastila said.

Lime-green Lake Superior 20/20 signs have been planted along the route to help tourists find their way. More information is available at

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
(218) 834-2141